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Music Review: Rafi Malkiel – My Island

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Rafi Malkiel is a continental man.  Born in Jerusalem and now based in New York, this composer and trombonist boasts an impressive career playing as a member of such ensembles as Salsa Picante, The Duke Ellington Orchestra and The Willie Colon Orchestra.  He has also appeared on more than 40 Jazz, Latin and Rock albums to name but a few accomplishments.

My Island is his debut as leader and according to his comments, his goal in creating this CD was to "present orchestrated and improvised music…..setting the passion and fire of a night spent at a Latin music club."

I don't know about spending the night at a club, but listening to this CD I was certainly transported on an island holiday and my first stop was Cuba. The first track of My Island, "Gozambique" brings me to Havana where I find myself dancing down a busy street. There is something so very distinctive about Cuban music.  The sound, rhythm and heat carry emotions beyond mere words. 

Equally distinct in sound is the New Orleans march. In  "Black and Tan Fantasy" the trombone is very clearly speaking to me.  It whispers naughty sweet nothings at the back of my neck while I saunter down to the French Quarter for a funeral procession in a too tight black dress and champagne high heels.  Hey, it's a fantasy right?

"Los Tres Juanes" is a lovely ballad complemented by the poetic vocal style of singer Abraham Rodriguez. Here the rhythm relaxes and I can picture myself in a nearly empty ballroom at the end of a long and lively night of dancing.  The orchestra is playing yet one more song for the love sick couple that can't seem to stop embracing long enough to leave the dance floor.

This is followed by two standard classics, "Nature Boy" and "Stardust."  If I have one major complaint about this CD is that I would like to change the order of the songs.  These successive pieces keep a slow rhythmic beat going for so long that the effect is hypnotizing.  I find myself sinfully reaching for the fast forward button half way through "Stardust."

I am, thus, very happy to be mentally traveling again with the warm and lively "Coballende" where the rich vocals complement that distinct Cuban beat. 

On track 10, Malkiel makes a seemingly unusual decision to leave the island to pay tribute to Johann Sebastian Bach.  I must tell you that it is a wonderful and rich interpretation of a Baroque Fugue. That said,  I wished I was hearing it on one of my classical CDs.  A compilation of Bach perhaps?  Here, on a Latin Jazz CD, it just seemed out of place. 

More so than the earlier inclusion of Duke Ellington's "Black & Tan Fantasy," which with its blues beat shares a certain similarity of rhythm with the rest of the music.  "Fuga, Fuga, Fuga," however, wakes me rather abruptly from my dream.

Fortunately, this is short lived as "Choro for Anat" calls me back to My Island to travel from Columbia to Puerto-Rico to Brazil.

Of all the beautiful places that Rafi Malkiel leads me to, I find myself most content to land on the rich, warm sands of Cuba.  This whirlwind island vacation in my mind concludes where it started, and where I am happiest, on the streets of Havana. 

The 13th and final track, "Guarija con Trombon," finds me enjoying the last song in my journey.  The flute, the piano, guitar, percussion, and above all the trombone carry me down the streets of Havana stopping at the door of Ernest Hemmingway's favorite hang out, the famed "La Floridita."  Mojito anyone?

So, do I recommend this CD to everyone?  Well, no, not to everyone.

If you are a fan of the chamber-sized ensemble jazz sound lead by trombone then by all means, My Island is very enjoyable.  However, if you are not familiar with this kind of music then I don't believe this CD will turn you into a convert.

My Island features the following musical talents:

Rafi Malkiel – Trombone/Euphonium/Leader
Anat Cohen – clarinet
Chris Karlic – tenor sax
Itai Kriss – flute, vocals
Steve Gluzband – trumpet
Jack Glottman – piano
Dave Hertzberg – bass
Andy Gonzalez – baby bass
Henry Cole – drums
Anthony Carrillo – percussion

Special guests include, Howard Johnson, Abraham Rodriguez, Gili Sharett, Chacho Schartz, Ronald Polo, Morris Canyate, Sergio Borrero, Ze Mauricio and Pablo Mayor.

"My Island" was produced by Raftone Records and is available online at www.RafiMalkiel.com

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About Nathalie Vanderheyden